10 War Books That Should Be Adapted into Movies

When one mentions the best war movies of all time, it’s hard not to think about the rich source books that inspired them. War and Peace, Full Metal Jacket and The Thin Red Line are just three examples of unforgettable stories adapted from brilliant books and novels that shed light on the horrors of war, the rules of engagement, and the lasting personal and societal effects of large-scale international skirmishes. But for every outstanding war book that’s been translated to the big screen, there are countless others that have yet to be adapted.


With the recent celebration of Veterans Day in the U.S. and the release of Ridley Scott’s Napoleon bombarding theaters on November 22, 2023, there’s no better time to spotlight the absolute best war books that have yet to be adapted into a feature film. From the American Revolution and Civil War to World Wars I and II and more, Hollywood ought to turn the following tales of battle into epic war films for future generations to learn from.


In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton

The cover of In Harm's Way is seen
Henry Holt & Company

Doug Stanton’s non-fiction book In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of its Survivors, is a harrowing account of what transpired on July 30, 1945. The riveting WWII tale concerns the titular U.S. warship torpedoed by Japanese forces, resulting in the Navy ship sinking and leaving 900 survivors stranded in the Pacific Ocean. For the next four days, the soldiers experienced hypothermia, shark attacks, and dementia as they awaited reinforcements.

Why It Should be Adapted into a Movie

Upon rescue, only 317 of the 900 survivors remained alive. Between the gripping tale of courage and perseverance, and the shifting perspectives of the captain of the ship, the military doctor, and a young Marine, the story is incredibly cinematic. The book especially calls to mind Quint’s iconic speech in the landmark 70s horror movie, Jaws, which recounts the terrifying brush with death the few USS Indianapolis survivors endured. Hearing about it is one thing; seeing the action translated onto the big screen is the next logical step.

The Women With Silver Wings by Katherine Sharp Landdeck

Women stand before warplanes in Women with Silver Wings
Crown Publishing Group

The role of women and their invaluable contributions during wartime are often vastly overlooked. In Katherine Sharp Landdeck’s The Women with Silver Wings, the author chronicles the formation of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II, a program that resulted in the courageous contributions by female Navy pilots who risked their lives fighting for American ideals.

Why It Should be Adapted into a Movie

Furthermore, the book recounts how the sacrifices made by the WASP participants were discounted and swept under the rug before the program was dissolved, following the U.S. victory in the war. This is a highly important tale that sheds light on the heroic role of women and the efforts made to discredit their sacrifices, and it would make for a truly inspiring movie. In fact, acclaimed author Victoria Thomas stated on Twitter: “This book is perfectly suited for a screenplay. It’s incredibly well-researched and tells the story of early aviation and pre-WWII society as much as women’s role in both. Loads of aviation megastars featured as well.”

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

Spartans united on the cover of Gates of Fire
Doubelday

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield is a historical fiction novel that features the ancient Battle of Thermopylae between the Greeks and Persians in 480 BC. While the same battle was used as inspiration for Zack Snyder’s popular movie 300, Pressfield’s novel is a much more intimate, realistic, and cinematic account that that Kirkus Reviews called called a “triumph of historical fiction.” The story is told through the eyes of Xeones, the lone survivor of the Greek army who recounts his experiences in battle.

Why It Should be Adapted into a Movie

Although fiction war books can be hit or miss when it comes to movies, Gates of Fire is such an important novel that it is taught at West Point Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, and The Marine Corps Basic School. The book is also included on the Commandant of the Marine Corps reading list for teaching such invaluable military lessons of honor, duty, and morale (via Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency). George Clooney once had plans to adapt Gates of Fire into a film with director Michael Mann attached (via One Room With a View), further proving the great potential this story has for cinematic adaptation.

Code Girls by Liza Mundy

Female soldiers stand united in Code Girls
Hachette Books

Liza Mundy’s Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II praises the secret contributions made by the brave, intelligent, and heroic women serving their country. The story tracks 10,000 women who were recruited to participate in the top-secret mission to decrypt Nazi military codes in Europe and the Pacific. Enlightening, inspiring, and fraught with tension and suspense, Code Girls has everything fans could want from a war movie.

RELATED: 10 Great Films That Fought for Civil Rights

Why It Should be Adapted into a Movie

Although similar themes have been explored in The Codebreaker and The Bletchley Circle, the details left out in those movies would make for a great companion piece in a Code Girls movie. Moreover, the story is reminiscent of the aeronautical contributions made by the brilliant women in Hidden Figures, with Code Girls focusing on an obscure piece of history that deserves its big-screen kudos.

Ghost Fleet by P.W. Singer and August Cole

The cover of Ghost Fleet is seen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Cyberwar remains one of the most underrepresented subgenres on the big screen. In Ghost Fleet, a potential World War III takes place after the United States experiences a cyberattack by Russia and China, which then gives way to boots on the ground. As the U.S. continues to use outdated warships and analog methods to combat the problem, the opposing forces use state-of-the-art technology to win the war.

Why It Should be Adapted into a Movie

Given the recent rise of A.I., Ghost Fleet would make for an incredibly timely and topical new-age war movie for the 21st century. The premise bears all the hallmarks of a visceral blockbuster, with the differences between traditional wartime tactics and newfangled digital avenues making for a truly riveting conflict. If Battleship was good enough to be translated to the big screen, then a serious, sober-minded account of a potential third World War would make for a valuable addition to an underutilized subgenre.

Eat The Apple by Matt Young

The cover for Eat the Apple is shown
Bloomsbury Publishing

Matt Young’s Eat the Apple is a haunting first-person account of a naive young soldier’s trying experiences in the Iraq War. The vivid coming-of-age tale explores the toxic masculinity found in platoon culture, delineating the stark differences between dutiful discipline and disobedient displays of rogue individuals breaking ranks for their own personal gain. With a surprising sense of morbid humor, sharp witticisms, and a trenchant glimpse into the modern age of war, Eat the Apple has all the bearings of a blockbuster.

Why It Should be Adapted into a Movie

In what could easily serve as a companion piece to Sam Mendes’ acclaimed film Jarhead, which involves Anthony Swofford’s personal testimony in the Gulf War, Eat the Apple would also add to the dearth of exquisite Iraq War movies. Historical fiction and biographical tales from outside authors are one thing, but hearing from the source’s mouth always makes for the most urgent and immediate war stories. As such, honoring Young’s vulnerable account of his time in the Iraq War would make for a remarkable movie.

The First Total War by David A. Bell

Napoleon sits on a horse on the cover of The First Total War
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

For those interested in seeing Ridley Scott’s Napoleon this Thanksgiving, consider The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It by David A. Bell as an ideal potential companion piece. In addition to tracing the French commander’s rise to power, the book places Napoleon’s controversial battle tactics within a larger historical context that is sure to fascinate historians and war enthusiasts alike.

RELATED: Ridley Scott’s 10 Highest-Grossing Movies, Ranked

Why It Should be Adapted into a Movie

Whether comparing Napoleon’s methods to The Enlightenment or The French Revolution, author David A. Bell goes to exhaustive lengths to show how the revolutionary military leader advanced and bent the rules of engagement in ways that evolved into modern warfare. Comprehensive, historically accurate, and hard to put down, The First War would make for a must-see double feature with Napoleon in the future.

Empire of The Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne

The cover of Empire of the\ Summer Moon is seen
Simon & Schuster

Fans of Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon ought to petition for a big-screen adaptation of Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne. Subtitled Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, the book recounts the trials and tribulations of Cynthia Ann Parker, a trailblazing leader whose son Quanah Parker was federally appointed as the chief of the Comanche tribe.

Why It Should be Adapted into a Movie

A sprawling affair that focuses on the 40-year war for control over the American West, Empire of the Summer Moon is a necessary story worthy of translating as a film along with Scorsese’s latest movie masterpiece. Between the rich descriptions of Comanche culture, customs, and traditions, and the U.S. Government’s treatment of the tribe and other Indigenous peoples, the book is a gut-wrenching portrait of America’s long, complicated history of Westward Expansion.

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Helicopters appear on the Matterhorn cover
Grove/Atlantic Inc.

Written by decorated U.S. Marine Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn is a powerful account of a teenage rifle platoon serving in the Vietnam War in 1969. Marlantes relays his own harrowing eyewitness testimony serving in the platoon, which consists of impressionable teenagers struggling to adapt to their duties and relate to their elder commanders.

Why It Should be Adapted into a Movie

While there’s no shortage of excellent Vietnam War movies, the characters in Matterhorn (the code name for the rifle troupe) are well-defined and fleshed out, and the visceral combat scenes are sure to rival the best of those seen in Platoon or Full Metal Jacket. The tactical warfare between the U.S. and the Viet Cong has been well-documented in movies, but Marlantes really gets to the heart of the maddening misery the grunts experienced in one of America’s most senseless wars on record.

Half American by Matthew F. Delmont

Soldiers are seen on the cover of Half American
Penguin Publishing Group

Matthew F. Delmont’s Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad chronicles the heroic contributions made by Black American soldiers in Europe during World War II. More importantly, the book shows how the Black population simultaneously fought a different kind of war at home: hate, prejudice, and racism expressed by their fellow Americans.

Why It Should be Adapted into a Movie

While most WWII movies deify white soldiers as American heroes who defeated the Nazis and advanced freedom and liberty, Half American gives the Black heroes their just due as monumentally important figures whose vast contributions to the war efforts continue to be brushed aside. In what would make for an ideal companion piece with the acclaimed Spike Lee joint Da 5 Bloods, Half American sheds light on a little-known bit of American history that should be required viewing by all citizens.


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